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PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21412. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021412. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

Molecular and cellular characterization of an AT-hook protein from Leishmania.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, Lousiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America.


AT-rich DNA, and the proteins that bind it (AT-hook proteins), modulate chromosome structure and function in most eukaryotes. Unlike other trypanosomatids, the genome of Leishmania species is unusually GC-rich, and the regulation of Leishmania chromosome structure, replication, partitioning is not fully understood. Because AT-hook proteins modulate these functions in other eukaryotes, we examined whether AT-hook proteins are encoded in the Leishmania genome, to test their potential functions. Several Leishmania ORFs predicted to be AT-hook proteins were identified using in silico approaches based on sequences shared between eukaryotic AT-hook proteins. We have used biochemical, molecular and cellular techniques to characterize the L. amazonensis ortholog of the L. major protein LmjF06.0720, a potential AT-hook protein that is highly conserved in Leishmania species. Using a novel fusion between the AT-hook domain encoded by LmjF06.0720 and a herpesviral protein, we have demonstrated that LmjF06.0720 functions as an AT-hook protein in mammalian cells. Further, as observed for mammalian and viral AT-hook proteins, the AT-hook domains of LmjF06.0720 bind specific regions of condensed mammalian metaphase chromosomes, and support the licensed replication of DNA in mammalian cells. LmjF06.0720 is nuclear in Leishmania, and this localization is disrupted upon exposure to drugs that displace AT-hook proteins from AT-rich DNA. Coincidentally, these drugs dramatically alter the cellular physiology of Leishmania promastigotes. Finally, we have devised a novel peptido-mimetic agent derived from the sequence of LmjF06.0720 that blocks the proliferation of Leishmania promastigotes, and lowers amastigote parasitic burden in infected macrophages. Our results indicate that AT-hook proteins are critical for the normal biology of Leishmania. In addition, we have described a simple technique to examine the function of Leishmania chromatin-binding proteins in a eukaryotic context amenable to studying chromosome structure and function. Lastly, we demonstrate the therapeutic potential of compounds directed against AT-hook proteins in Leishmania.

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